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Dylan Avery, Loose Change Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

  1. Peter Knight, in "Outrageous Conspiracy Theories: Popular and Official Responses to 9/11 in Germany and the United States," observes that there are three “traditional epistemological structures embedded in conspiracy theories that make them so attractive to believers seeking the refuge of humanist certainties in an increasingly post humanist age: namely, nothing happens by accident, nothing is as it seems, [and] everything is connected.” He points this out in order to illustrate the ways that “new media techniques push to the very limit—and even at times undermine—[these] traditional epistemological structures” (166). What might we say are the traditional epistemological structures embedded in fictional narrative? Have the texts with which we’ve engaged this semester done anything in particular to disrupt or undermine these structures?  
  2. To what extent might readers of the 9/11 texts we’ve studied—including, of course, ourselves—come to these texts “seeking the refuge of humanist certainties in an increasingly post humanist age?” How might this have affected reviews of these novels, both popular and critical? Our own scholarship?  
  3. It occurs to me, after reading Knight’s article, that conspiracies—in multiple sense of that word—function in every text with which we’ve engaged this semester, both on and below the surface. They function as explicit primary narratives (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Bleeding Edge), as ancillary narratives (The Emperor’s Children; Falling Man; Netherland; The Reluctant Fundamentalist), and as topics of reflection (In the Shadow of No Towers). Considering the original sense of the word “conspire,” what is a novel if not a place where people “breath”—so to speak—together? How might we consider the novel itself as a sort of emergent conspiratorial network? How might we consider the ways in which the 9/11 novels we’ve read this semester create—or constitute—both intra- and intertextual “conspiracies:” “highly interconnected but also decentered and deterritorialized networks of vested interests that are not necessarily the product of individual or collective intentionality, producing in effect a picture of what might paradoxically be termed “conspiracy without conspiring” (166)?  
  4. Peter Knight observes that conspiracy theories did not gain ground in the United States until 2004, “as existing research became much more widely publicized, with the mainstream media finally taking note of the increasing popularity of the theories in several articles published around the fifth anniversary of the attacks.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was published in 2005; The Emperor’s Children was published in 2006; Falling Man and The Reluctant Fundamentalist were published in 2007; Netherland was published in 2008; Bleeding Edge was published in 2013. The question has been posed throughout the semester, but I’ll reiterate it in light of this new information: what might we glean—beside the fact that it’s difficult to write novels—from the fact that these novels took no fewer than four years to write and publish? Additionally, it’s interesting to note that one of the very first substantive conspiracy texts, Mathias Bröcker’s “World Trade Center Conspiracy” blog—like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and David Wyatt’s And Then the War Came—began as a project before the September 11th attacks. 
  5. Knight notes, further, that “the first wave of book-length conspiracy speculations emerged in France and Germany” well before 2004 (168). IMDB demographic data indicates that individuals who rated Loose Change on their website are predominantly non-U.S. citizens. Were novels written and published in either of these countries—or other countries—before the first wave of American novels in 2005-2006?
  6. Dylan Avery has cited Peter Thompson’s “Complete 9/11 Timeline” as the starting point in his trajectory toward creating Loose Change. Peter Knight writes that, “the time line in effect creates a vast—in theory, infinite—pattern of interconnectedness in the events before and after 9/11. Although it is possible to read all 3,699 entires in chronological order, the Web format allows and indeed encourages readers to jump from topic to topic, following a wide variety of narrative routes through the cross-referenced hyperlinks…If there is a conspiracy theory in the time line, it has to be actively constructed by the reader” (191). Each version of Loose Change utilizes this chronological and topical plasticity to great narrative and rhetorical effect. In what ways have some of the novels we’ve read this semester approached narrative time in this way and to what effect? In those novels that don’t seem to approach narrative time this way, are there other narrative strategies at work that might in stand in for this type of device?